Never before have Caribbean BPO companies and their people been threatened by such relentless destruction.
First came Hurricane Irma, a category five that impacted almost every island nation in the region; then came Jose, which added insult to injury, mostly in Barbuda and Anguilla; and now, with Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and Dominica have been experienced unprecedented trauma.
“Emergency preparedness by nations, states, communities, and individual families is now more important than ever as it seems no region is safe these days,” said Mark Bowen, Director of Marketing at Clear Harbor, the largest BPO employer in Dominica.
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Clear Harbor currently employs more than 750 people, many of which have lost all their possessions and find themselves starting over again.
“This category five storm and the associated winds and flooding have left many of our employees homeless,” said Tut Smith, President at Clear Harbor in a statement. “As with any natural disaster of this magnitude, recovery will take some time as these folks attempt to rebuild their lives.
After Hurricane Maria passed, Clear Harbor immediately began reaching out to its client base to open lines of communications and provide ongoing updates.
“Everyone we spoke with was understanding, supportive and concerned for the safety of our employees, as they have built close working relationships with many of the men and women at Clear Harbor,” said Bowen.
“Given the magnitude of the storm and the damage to Dominica as a whole, our clients have expressed astonishment at the resilience and determination of Clear Harbor associates to get operations back to full capacity.”
Preparing for the Worst
For most BPO companies, the planning, preparations, and business continuity contingencies for hurricanes follow a similar trajectory.
The initial stages are hurricane preparation meetings, in which all departments confirm their roles and responsibilities in the event of any disruption, while also ensuring that communication channels are available and contact information for staff members is easily accessible.
Local meteorological services give companies the means to track the path of the storm, while social media plays it part in allowing for regular updates in and out of the company.
Backup generators and water tanks are topped up, non-perishable food items are stockpiled, and protective plastic bags are collected to cover expensive IT equipment.
As public transport is vital for many staff members, many firms have their own transport services to prepare for the eventuality that regular networks are shut off by the local government.
On an operational note, company leaders will often establish a command and control hierarchy, where regular updates and periodic information is trickled down from the company head to the department managers and the rest of the staff.
When work needs to be re-routed to other locations, the IT department works with client services to ensure a seamless transition, while staff at the other facilities work extra hours to support any downtime.
Ultimately, this process always prioritizes the people in BPO, ensuring they will be safe and protected in the event of a disaster.
Getting Back to Business
After returning to the office on Tuesday October 3rd, the folks at the country’s investment promotions agency, Invest Dominica, reported that all staff members were alive and well, despite the personal losses experienced.
“Every single Dominican experienced some type of damage to their homes, so people are trying their best to be strong for each other,” said Grace Stephen, Investment Promotion Officer at Invest Dominica Authority. “For some reason, this hurricane attacked the roofs, so most people have lost their roof, while some homes were completed demolished and severely flooded, which cost some their lives.”
While the island experienced serious devastation and some communities are totally cut off, the people in key areas of the country’s development are working hard to ensure that things go back to normal soon.
“The telecommunications companies on island are working feverishly to restore all their services,” said Stephen. “The road infrastructure and other utilities are also giving over 100% at restoring the services.”
Clear Harbor resumed business operations in Dominica on the morning of October 2nd, with more than two-thirds of its associates reporting in to work. The company cites this as a result of round-the-clock efforts by its management team, which both addressed the needs of employees and their families while executing a business continuity plan.
We reached out to the Dominica consulate and regional telecom operator Digicel for their input, neither of which, at the time of publication, were available for comment.
Supporting Ongoing Relief Efforts
“As our facilities come back online, we are focusing a great deal of attention on assisting Clear Harbor families on the island that have been impacted with damage to homes and personal losses,” said Bowen.
Part of this disaster relief is Clear Harbor Cares, a fund to support Clear Harbor employees and their families who have suffered a loss and are attempting to rebuild. Company employees will receive 100% of the donations.
“Most people on island are dependent on the supplies that are being distributed by the government or are received from family and friends abroad,” said Stephens. “Food and water is one priority, as most supermarkets on island will not be opening in a hurry, as they too were affected and experienced severe burglary. Tarpaulins are also welcome, as many roofs are still bare, and the hurricane season is still ongoing. The priority areas are the communities that can only be reached via helicopter.”
Despite not having operations in Dominica, a number of BPOs across the Caribbean region are doing what they can to support the island. KM2 Solutions, based in Barbados, Grenada, and St. Lucia, has mobilized its teams through its KM2 Cares initiative, in which staff members collect non-perishables like cases of water, dried milk, toiletries, and canned food to be shipped to Dominica.
“While we were fortunate, Dominica was less so, and our people are much attuned to that reality,” said Tony Jennings, Regional VP of Operations for the Eastern Caribbean at KM2 Solutions. “Our people are being as generous as they can with donations, also giving their time to organize, advertise, and oversee the relief efforts.”
In the event of such a catastrophe, it’s highly encouraging to see people in the industry and in the region coming together to support those impacted by Hurricane Maria, and we urge everyone in our Nearshore Americas community to do the same.
To support victims of Hurricane Maria, you can donate to Clear Harbor Cares by visiting the GoFundMe page here: https://www.gofundme.com/clear-harbor-cares-dominica
The American Red Cross is accepting donations for Hurricane Maria relief, but it has been accused of mishandling previous disaster relief funds in the past. It is doing well with providing shelters, food, supplies, and blood, but you may want to donate with caution.
Here are Charity Navigator’s recommendations for reputable and trustworthy Hurricane Maria relief organizations and funds:
- Matthew 25: Ministries
- All Hands Volunteers
- International Relief Teams
- Heart to Heart International
- Save the Children
- Water Mission
- World Hope International
- Project HOPE Direct Relief
- Hispanics in Philanthropy
- Catholic Relief Services
- American Kidney Fund
- International Medical Corps
- MAP International
- Children’s Hunger Fund
- ICNA Relief USA
- World Vision